Petri

Advanced Drag-and-Drop Techniques in Vista

Ever since Microsoft introduced mice into their operating systems (something done earlier by other vendors such as Apple and pioneered by the Xeros PARC – Palo Alto Research Center – mythical design team) we could drag-and-drop items from one spot of the graphical user interface (or GUI) to a different spot. I will not go into the basics of drag-and-drop as I assume that if you’re advanced enough to read this article then you’ve mastered these actions as a reasonable level, but instead I will remind you of some of the advanced techniques in dragging-and-dropping. These will allow you to have more control over items when you’re dragging-and-dropping items.

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Since many users deal with more than just typing documents and replying to emails, most of us will have had a chance to drag-and-drop a file or folder from, for instance, a USB flash disk to their My Documents folder. It is important for us to be able to determine what will happen when you drag-and-drop an item from one location in the GUI to another, and that is before you perform the actual dropping.

Now here is where the challenge hides: Drag-and-drop functions are handled differently in various situations. Based on the drag-and-drop scenario the end result changes, and unless you know what will be the outcome of your drag-and-drop action, you might find yourself without the necessary files in the middle of an important presentation. Therefore, in order to achieve the required result you will sometimes need to change your default behavior. Here is a list of the rules that Windows works by when determining how dropped files are handled:

Note: The following drag-and-drop rules are mostly universal to Microsoft operating systems.

Same partition

If you drag an object from one place to another on the same partition (d:\bbb to d:\ccc), the object is moved. Note that Vista now tells you clearly what’s going to happen to the file (“Move to ccc”).

Different partition or to a network drive

If you drag a file or object from one partition to another partition or network drive (d:\bbb to c:\aaa), the object is copied, resulting in two identical files on your system. Note that Vista now tells you clearly what’s going to happen to the file (“Copy to aaa”).

Dragging executable items to the Start menu

If you drag an application executable (EXE) to any portion of your Start menu or into any subfolder of your Start Menu folder, Windows Vista will create a shortcut to the file. Dragging other file types (documents, script files, or other shortcuts) to the Start menu will simply move or copy them there, according to the rules that were described above. Note that Vista now tells you clearly what’s going to happen to the file (“Create link in Start menu”).

Dragging system objects

If you drag a system object (such as My Computer or the Control Panel) anywhere, a shortcut to the item is created.

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Dragging items to and from the Recycle Bin

If you drag items to the Recycle Bin they will be logically deleted, and they will be placed in the Recycle Bin. If you drag a recently deleted item from the Recycle Bin, it will be restored.

Dragging items to the Recycle Bin if it is hidden behind many windows

If you wish to drag-and-drop a file to the Recycle Bin but the bin’s icon is hidden by many other open windows one of the things you can do is to drag the file or files to any empty spot on the Taskbar. Hold the mouse button for a second or two, and then you’ll see that all the opened windows will suddenly minimize the you will be able to see the desktop and the Recycle Bin icon.

Note: Vista does its best to help by turning the mouse pointer to a small cue card. If you see no symbol, the object will be moved, a blue right-pointing arrow appears next to the pointer when copying, and a curved arrow appears when creating a shortcut.

Manually controlling the drag-and-drop result

If you don’t want to rely on the above logic for the outcome of the drag-and-drop action, or if you wish the receive a different outcome, you can manually control what happens when you drag and drop an item:

To copy an object in any situation hold the CTRL key while dragging. This will not work for system objects such as Control Panel items. You can also use this trick to easily duplicate an item within the same folder.

To move an object hold the SHIFT key while dragging.

To create a shortcut to an object hold the CTRL and SHIFT keys simultaneously while dragging.

Right-button drag-and-drop

I personally like to right-click drag-and-drop. This allows me to choose what happens to dragged files each time without having to press any keys or remember where and what each drag function does. When you drag your files with the right mouse button, and a new context menu will appear when you let go of the right mouse button and the files are dropped.

Summary

Dragging-and-dropping has been a part of the Windows operating system for a long time. Knowing what drag-and-drop does in each scenario is beneficial to the user’s productivity and ease of use. And if you forgot what drag-and-drop does in each scenario, just drag-and-drop with the right mouse button, it will give you maximum control over the operation.

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